When we start out to create a blog, we should ask a few questions. The answers will point us to the tools we’ll need. The first question might be, “Why do I want to create a blog?”
Is it for business, school, ministry, or as a hobby?
What types of things do I want to have on my blog?
Will I post written messages, videos, or photos?
What type of audience do I hope to reach?
Will the blog be for friends, family, church, community, or the world?
How much time do I have available to keep my blog going?
This last question is an important one that’s easy to overlook. Blogging takes time, and if you have a popular blog, it can take a lot of time. Ask yourself how much time you have to devote to maintaining your blog.
Spend some time thinking about these questions and develop an idea of what your blog will be about, what it will look like, and how much time it will take to maintain it.
Most bloggers begin by using a template provided by a free blog service. The most popular service is WordPress. In the last few years, due to cancel culture, many writers have flocked to Substack. Other services worth considering are Wix and Weebly.
Blogging is made available as a free service because blog providers make money through advertising. If you choose to advertise on your blog, you could create a source of income by having people visit your blog. You allow the blog service to post ads on your blog, and they pay you for using your blog space. Substack has the option to let subscribers pay a monthly or annual fee.
While some bloggers are able to create revenue from their blogs by advertising, not everyone can, and not everyone should. Advertisers look for certain things in a blog before allowing their ads to be posted. Before you’re approved to post their ads, most agencies scan your content to see if it fits their criteria. If your blog passes muster, you’ll be allowed to post their ads. If not, you’ll be declined. If you’re not able to advertise, don’t despair. Blogs with a lot of ads take longer to load, and that can be annoying to some readers. Heavy use of advertising may actually keep people away from your blog.
Free or Paid?
Although I started out using a free blogging service, I now use a paid WordPress website that I host through Dreamhost. I felt like my needs had outgrown my no-frills blog, so I moved up to the next level. The upside to a hosted blog is that you have nearly unlimited freedom when it comes to design. The downside is that you have to pay for hosting. Managing a self-hosted website is a lot more work than managing a free blog. Although you begin with a template, you have to make it look the way you want, and that requires some work. For a discussion on the pros and cons of free versus paid WordPress websites, check out this article.
After you decide which blogging service to use, the next step is choosing a name and address for your blog. Spend a little time thinking about the name of your blog. Consider names that your readers will identify with. Also, consider that your blog’s name can be used by other bloggers. If you want a unique name, be sure to do a search to see whether or not someone is using the name you’ve chosen. If you associate your blog with a product, and the name you intend to use is copyrighted, you may run into legal problems.
Once you have a name for your blog, you’ll need to create a web address for it. Although blog names can be duplicated, blog addresses are unique. If you go with a free blogging service, they’ll recommend available addresses that can be used at no charge. You may want to experiment a little and try different possibilities. You’ll need to find an address that isn’t already in use.
As long as the blog address ends with the name of your blog service (i.e ‘wordpress.com’), the address should be free. If you choose an address without the blog service ending, you’ll have to register it as a new domain with a hosting service. You’ll pay a small fee to register the domain name, which reserves it for your use.
The next step is choosing a template for your blog. A template is a standard set of instructions written in a programming language that gives a blog a particular look. Blogging services make a variety of templates available. Graphic designers create free templates for use with WordPress and other blogging platforms
There are many aesthetic differences between blog templates, but only a few of them are functional. The functional differences between templates has to do with the number of columns and how they are laid out. Some templates have two columns, while others have three.
Most templates include a main column for posts and one or two sidebars for add-on modules known as “widgets.” Blog content (the text you are now reading) appears in the main column. If you allow readers to leave comments, they’ll usually appear under the post in the main column.
Sidebars provide space for widgets, which are things you add to your blog. Examples are: images, videos, podcasts, links to older stories, favorite posts, links to other blogs, social networking links, donation buttons, disclaimers, legal information, contact information, advertisements, etc.
A two-column template has one wide column for posts and one narrow column as a sidebar. A three-column template has one main column and two sidebars.
The template you choose will depend on which layout fits your particular needs. If your blog only requires a single, wide column for images or text and maybe a few widgets, a two-column layout will probably work. If your blog will have a lot of add-on components that go in a sidebar, a three-column layout may be better for you.
Don’t let the template become an obstacle to getting started. If you aren’t excited with the look of a particular template, rest assured knowing that you can tweak it to make it look better or find another one at a later date. If you begin with a two-column template and find that you need more room for widgets, you can always switch to a three-column template later.
The dimensions of websites are commonly referred to in pixels. A pixel is a small unit of measurement that describes the height or width of something formatted for the internet.
The main column of a blog is usually between 350 and 500 pixels wide. Sidebars are typically 150 – 250 pixels wide.
For years, the standard width for blog templates was 750 pixels wide. A two-column template might have a main column 450 pixels wide and a sidebar that is 200 pixels wide. The combined width would be 650 pixels in a layout that allows for 750 pixels total width. The remainder of the space (100 pixels) is used for padding between columns and edges. Mostly due to the fact that the average computer monitor has grown considerably wider, templates are now available in wider widths. The template I use for this website is over 1,000 pixels wide. That’s a lot of real estate.
Color schemes are created by graphic designers to give blogs a certain look and feel. There’s a reason why most of us aren’t graphic designers. They have talents we don’t have. Designers are paid to create nice-looking websites. Most of the fonts and colors of a blog can be modified, but it’s a risky proposition. If you make too many changes, you’ll end up with a ghastly-looking website. Be cautious when making changes to the standard fonts and colors of a template.
You can display images on your blog by simply adding them to the post in the post editor page. There’s a button in nearly all blog post editors that allows you to add images from your computer or from the internet via HTML code. You’ll be given choices about whether to display the image at its full size or a smaller size. There are options to display the image to the left, right, or centered in the main column, and you can choose to add tags or descriptions to images.
Tabs & Pages
For years, bloggers were limited to their main page as the only place to put their stuff. But a few years ago, blogging services began offering tabs to multiple pages. Now you can have different pages for different things. Want to have a page for instruction and a separate page for photos? No problem. Just add another tab. A major reason why I switched to a WordPress-hosted website was that I wanted to have the ability to add tabs for different pages, and my old Google blog made it difficult. My WordPress theme makes it easy to add tabs at the top of the page and even allows for drop-down menus. I can have each page formatted to look virtually any way I choose.
Some bloggers post daily, others post weekly, and some only a few times a year. How often you post is up to you. I usually post about every two or three days, which gives my readers a break between posts, so they can do other things and not miss out on what’s happening. I take advantage of my blog’s scheduling feature, which allows me to create posts and schedule them to be published at a future date.
I often set up a group of posts to publish two or three weeks in advance, with three days between posts. This allows me to have a life aside from being a blogger. When something comes up that I want to post immediately, I create the post and publish it, then reschedule the posts I have waiting to publish.
If your blog is intended to reach a wide audience, you’ll want to connect it to social networks. There are add-ons you can use to connect a blog to Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks. Some platforms will automatically post your latest message to your social media accounts. Automated services can be a blessing, decreasing the time needed to monitor your blog. When I started blogging, I was getting about 10 to 15 viewers a day. Within a month of connecting it to Facebook, the number of views increased tenfold. Social networking is critical if you hope to reach a large audience.
If your blog attracts readers, it will eventually attract critics. Bloggers have a choice to either allow or disallow comments. If you allow readers to comment, you’ll have the pleasure of dealing with feedback—both good and bad. How you handle feedback is critically important. If you handle criticism well, you’ll likely have a good blogging experience, but if you struggle with criticism, your life as a blogger may not be very happy.
Spend some time honestly assessing how you handle praise and criticism and set up the comment feature accordingly. I suggest moderating all comments before they post, as your blog will inevitably get spammers leaving comments that will detract from the flow of your blog. (For more information on how to handle criticism, see this message.)
The blogging environment has become more flexible lately. For today’s blogger, the possibilities are nearly endless. I hope you found this message helpful. If you have any questions about getting started as a blogger, I’d be happy to help. Just leave a comment or send me an e-mail.